Veterans' Support and Information

It gives us great pleasure to be able to introduce you to our WW ii Veterans' Support and Information page. Having met along the way a good number of veterans, many whom have become personal friends, we feel there should be somewhere other than the established places where help, support, and advice can be obtained. It's the least we owe them, and they more than deserve it.

What hit home to us was the contrast between today’s service personnel and the WW2 vets, highlighted by weekly media coverage of places such as Afghanistan and Royal Wootton Bassett etc. Nobody begrudges the service personnel of today anything they can get. But the fact remains that the media like to cover today's events and stories which feature the young. Sadly, yesterday’s heroes don't sell newspapers: even the so-called celebs and reality stars such as Katie Price want to visit troops in Afghanistan. Lovely reading and lovely stories.

It may be of interest that when we launched appeals to assist with some sponsoring of in-flight extra legroom for a Veterans Far East trip, as well as a subsequent tour to Normandy vets we sent out twenty letters–to chairmen of all the major airlines, as well as 20 from the top 50 rich list. Thanks a lot!

The vets of WW2 tell me they feel like a forgotten generation. Largely ignored, often seen shuffling through our shopping centres with a somewhat unkempt look (perhaps unshaven), carrying a battered old supermarket bag. The only clue which the majority of us do not notice (myself included in the past) is perhaps a blazer badge: Bomber Command, Fighter Command, Burma Star, Para (Arnhem) Normandy Vet, Dunkirk. These esteemed gentlemen were our great heroes of 70 plus years ago: tall strong and proud as indeed they are still to this day. The best they can hope for is not to be mugged, beaten- up or robbed in their own home. These people are still amongst us in dwindling numbers and the majority of people sadly don't give a damn about them.

This section of our website, although new, will provide support to any veteran who either calls us themselves or via family or a friend. We have the support of many different professionals who can help, including legal advisers. The list of issues which our vets may face is pretty exhaustive but includes unfair treatment, unhelpful retailers, housing benefits, social issues, bureaucracy, war widows’ pensions and harassment. Obviously, we do not have unlimited time resources available so you may have to be patient but we will do our utmost to help you as quickly as possible.

At the same time, this can be a place where you might be able to communicate with long-lost chums. The internet provides numerous opportunities for this these days but many of our vets find the whole thing daunting. That's not to say sons/daughters/grandsons or daughters could not register by proxy and pass on emails. We can happily coordinate this with our  sister organisation.

Below are the military service histories of some of the gentlemen we have been honoured to have met. Sadly, one of the gentlemen whom we planned to take back to Normandy recently had a stroke: Private William Sutherland. He is now unable to talk or look after himself in any way. We would describe him as “one of Scotland's finest”!

 

Eddie Peake
Spalding

“I was in The Royal Corps Signals and posted to J Section 53rd Btl. 18th division. In late 1941 I embarked from Scotland to halfway across the Atlantic.

“We were escorted by the American Navy into Halifax Nova Scotia and transferred onto an American Luxury Liner, ‘Mount Vernon’, which would take us to Cape Town via North and South America. We left Cape Town for India, then Mount Vernon turned back to Mombasa and the rest of the division went back on to India.

“Around this time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so the 53rd Brigade left Mombasa for Singapore and Malaya. I was in Malaya and we retreated to Singapore. After some fighting, we were ordered to surrender.

“After three months in prison, I was taken by cattle truck to Thailand to build the railway. When we finished, we were taken back to Singapore to go to Japan, but after two ships were sunk by torpedoes, we were taken onto a French/Indo Liner at Jalak, 300 miles from Saigon.

“We were released in Saigon and eventually flown to Rangoon in Burma and attached to the 14th Army for food and pay, then onto Boat House. I was posted Missing in Action (MIA) in 1942, and was notified by the Red Cross in Saigon as a POW at the end of the war in 1945.”

Private William Sutherland

DOB: 19/9/21
Enlisted: The Drill Hall, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire – June, 1937 Regiment: The King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Division Army No: 3189522
Served in BEF, France 1939–40. Involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk
North Africa Campaign, 1942–43
Invasion of Sicily, 1943
Salerno Italy, 1943
Finally, landed Normandy, France in June 1944
His war service ended after being seriously injured/wounded at Falaise, France.
He was reported KIA (Killed in Action).
Joined Reserve/demobbed on 15/03/1945

In Sept 1944, while in a jeep commissioned to hold two stretchers with scaffold and carrying the Red Cross Flag, he picked up two injured Polish servicemen – a German tank caught him at the third blast. He was badly injured and unconscious and was flown from Falaise to Basingstoke, England. He was then transferred to Nottingham General Hospital for three weeks, then convalesced at Ruddington Hall for five months. In 1945 he was transferred to Larbert Mental Hospital under observation.

His wife in the meantime received a telegram to say that he had been killed in action. Later, he was then transferred to Grade C to a holding battalion at Strathpeffer. He still has shrapnel in his head which cannot be removed as it is too dangerous.

William Sutherland
Musselburgh
East Lothian

War Service

Private George Lee
DOB: 30/06/1919
Enlisted: 09/11/1939
Regiment: R.A.M.C Number: 7366305
Service: 1939–1946

“I was conscripted to the Army on 09/11/1939 and served in England. Then in late 1941, I sailed to Canada with the forces onto South America. Then I went to South Africa and then under fire to Singapore before being captured by the Japanese in February 1942. Eventually, I was transferred to Thailand to work on the railway construction, during which I worked for long periods on medical duties attending to sick prisoners of war, while building the railway. On completion of the railway, I was transferred to work behind the Japanese lines assisting in their defense against British Troops. While doing that work the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Japan and I was free to come home.”

Information on Private S.E. Smith
East Surrey Regiment
T/14840882
Base Camp in Reichswald Forest
February 1945

“After completing battalion training at Shorncliffe Barracks, Kent we were given a few days leave and then back to Shorncliffe. The following morning we were told to gather all our equipment and board a train to Harwich Harbour. We arrived early evening, had a meal at the local barracks and then boarded a tank landing craft. The smell of oil and human vomit was awful. We moved out late at night and ended up in the Thames Estuary joining many more boats. I tried to sleep down below but it was impossible.

“Next morning I went up on deck as the sea was extremely rough. I noticed there were several ships around plus escorts by destroyers. I had a cup of tea and a tin of corned beef. I threw the tin over board as I was feeling sick but suddenly the ship’s siren sounded and we were told to go below. There were approximately 50 squaddies down below all sick! We heard depth charges. It lasted about half an hour. The ‘all-clear’ went and we were allowed back on top. After about an hour we saw land. It looked uninviting as we approached the harbour with sunken ships everywhere. We landed and were taken to a local camp where we had a hot meal and told we were in Antwerp, the first port to be captured. We then boarded lorries, ending up very late at night in Bruges to stay at a camp for the night.

“Next morning we were off again to Brussels. It was very cold. We spent a few days there then onto another train heading east. We alighted at night, were given hot tea and sandwiches and then told to camp in the tents surrounded by thick snow. About ten of us huddled together fully clothed to keep warm. Next morning, after tea and bully beef we were back on the train. We moved out very slowly as this was the only line repaired. We saw much damage as we travelled into Holland, arriving just outside Nijmegen. We embarked from the train and walked a fair distance into the Reichswald Forest. We were a holding unit in case of problems up front. My sergeant ordered me and three other men to go deep into the forest. To our surprise, we were to be instructed in the use of flame throwers. Within several days we were experts on how to handle this dreadful equipment. If used against the enemy, your life expectancy was one day. On completion of the course, the sergeant told me we might be needed to burn down Belsen Concentration Camp. That never happened. Flame-throwing tanks did the job in no time. Thank God.

“The war ended on May 5th and our main job was herding prisoners into cages: soldiers, women and young lads. On one occasion, I escorted eight German prisoners with their shovels to a ditch and told them to clear the blockage and later ‘herded’ them back to base. In early June we were told to gather our equipment as we were “going home”!! We packed our equipment and were taken to Brussels airport. Stirling Bombers were waiting for us and we flew home to Blighty! We landed somewhere in the South and were greeted by WAAFS and airmen. After a meal, we boarded lorries and arrived at Broom Park stately home where we stayed overnight in tents.

“The next morning we were told we were now in the Royal West Kent Regiment 45th Division Tank Infantry and were to invade Japan. After more training, we were allowed home on embarkation leave. On return to Shorncliffe Barracks, we were taken by lorry to the port at Dover Barracks. Then GREAT NEWS! The 2nd H-Bomb was dropped – the invasion stopped. We went back to the barracks. Eventually, the whole division was broken up. We were sent to many different places and units. I finished up in the Royal Army Service Corps attached to the Fire Service and sent to Naples as the Italians had no fire service left. I finished working my way up to Venice and Trieste and enjoyed it. I came home for Demob. The war ended soon after in June – we were going home! We packed up our equipment and were taken by lorries to Brussels Airport. Stirling Bombers were waiting for us and we flew home to Blighty.”

Victor Vale
ARMY No. 6141888
Enlisted East Surrey Regt. 13/3/37
At Singapore when it fell.

Victor had problems with ulcers on his leg. When he sought help at a medical centre, he was given three choices for a solution to the problem: 1. Removal of the ulcer. This would be carried out by him lying down, with a small piece of wood to bite on. Lieutenant Smith would use a sharpened spoon to scoop out the rotting flesh, and a small amount of dressing would be applied. 2. Amputation of his leg. 3. Death. It goes without saying that Victor chose option 1. War humour, I guess.

“One night we were asked to move huts. Some of my fellow soldiers refused, in what turned out to be a fatal mistake for some. A stray bomb hit the camp after it missed its intended target – a line of ammunition trucks. Foster (a fellow soldier) lost a leg, and Reg Spencer (a fellow soldier) was killed. On another occasion after a bombing in which 90 men were killed, we were told to put rice sacks on them. When it came to the time to move the bodies it rained and rained. Vic and Bill Fields, as well as Sid, helped me with the moving. When we arrived at the grave site, there were already two separate graves: one for English soldiers and one for Dutch soldiers. When we got to the site, we realised there were already so many bodies in the graves that they had no choice but to stand on the bodies. At times our feet would go through the bodies, but we just to get some more in. Two other men then arrived to help and put a second line of bodies in. Watching and taking part in something so horrific is something none of us will forget to this day.”

During the height of cholera, Vic was offered some water noodles. He refused. Fellow soldier Ted Heath ate Vic’s portion and sadly died.

“I will also never forget hearing dogs bark gruffly a quarter of an hour before planes crossed over us on their way to Bangkok.”

WW ii Veterans' Support and Information

The world will never see the likes of these TOUGH JOES again … God bless them all!